The Chapter of the Self of the Apastamba Law-book

The significance of the Chapter of the Self of the Āpastamba Law-book in the history of early Vedanta is discussed in detail in Professor Hajime Nakamura’s Shoki Vedanta Tetsugaku-shi (History of Early Vedanta Philosophy), the first volume of which covers Vedanta before the Brahma-sūtras. Professor Nakamura has kindly agreed to the inclusion here of a translation of the relevant section as follows (notes giving references are largely omitted):

In India from early times a great number of law-books were composed. They lay down, from a Brahminical standpoint, structures, customs and daily activities of society, concentrating on such problems as the systems of four castes and the four stages of life (āśrama). At first they were written in the comparatively concise sūtra style and their contents also were brief and simple, but later on elaborate law-books containing also civil and criminal law were produced. These were compiled and edited by the priestly Brahmins, and the outlook of Brahminism is clear in them. Among Buddhist texts the Vinaya-Piṭaka, which is one of the Tripiṭaka, should be classed as a kind of law-book, but this is a legal work applicable only to the order of monks and not to society at large, whereas the law-books edited by the Brahmins purport to be rules and regulations for society in general, and are completely different in significance from the Vinaya-Piṭaka.

These law-books compiled by the Brahmins have been highly regarded as most valuable sources for information about social conditions in ancient India, though on the other hand some scholars assert that they are simply Utopias composed by Brahmins of the priestly class, remote from actual conditions of society in ancient India. Thorough-going investigation would be needed to clarify the historical and social significance of the Brahminical law-books, but I shall not now enter into the problem. I will content myself with remarking that since these law-books are works by the Brahmins, they are valuable sources for information about their thought. It is needless to say that Vedānta thought expounded in them rates highly as revealing one aspect of the history of Vedanta philosophy.

Among the ancient law-books, it is specially in the Āpastamba- dharma-sūtra that Vedanta thought appears. This work has been considered as one section of the Kalpasūtra belonging to the Āpastamba school, a Black Yajur-veda school in southern India, and it is one of the oldest extant law-books. In 1.8.22 and 23 of this work, Vedantic ideas are explained, particularly in the section called the Adhyātma-paṭala (Chapter of the Self), on which there exists a commentary ascribed to Śaṅkara which has been published, and which is called the Adhyātma-paṭala-Vivaraṇa.

The authenticity of the commentary has been called into question. But in its quotations it restricts itself almost entirely to the ancient Upanishads, and its literary style resembles that of Śaṅkara. Moreover as a commentary it is far more accurate than the Ujjvalā-vṛitti of Haradatta, which is a commentary on the entire Āpastamba-dharma-sūtra, and since it is also apparent that its author was versed in Vedic Sanskrit, it may well be by Śaṅkara. Even if it is not an authentic work by him, I would think that it may be put in the same category – it must, in other words, have been written by a scholar of learning and upbringing similar to Śaṅkara at a period not too far from his.

In the Āpastamba-dharma-sūtra, sūtras 22.4—23.3 of the Adhyātma-paṭala section are quotations from authoritative works prior to the law-book. As the commentator Śaṅkara says, they may be citations from some Upanishads composed before that time, but not found in any extant Upanishads. But the following are very much like the Kāṭhaka Upanishad:

Ādhyātma-paṭalaKāthaka Upanishad
4 ahanyamānaII.18 na hanyate hanyamāne śarīre (he is not slain when the body is slain).
(indestructible,lit. not-struck-down)19 nayam hanti na hanyate (this slays not nor is slain).
(Compare Chandogya VIII. 10.4; na vadhenāsya hanyate (by killing of this,
he is not killed); Gītā II.19 and 20; na hanyate hanyamāne śarīre; hanti
kam? (whom does he slay?))
4, 5 guhāśayaIII. 12 eṣa sarveṣu bhuteṣu gūdhātmā (this atman concealed in all beings).
(lying in the cave)III.1 guhām praviṣṭau (who have entered the cave).
IV. 6, 7 guhām praviśya (having entered the cave).
(Cp.Svet.VI. 11 eko devah sarvabhūteṣu gūḍhah (one god hidden in all beings).)
4 te ‘mṛtāhVI.9 amṛtās te bhavanti (they become immortal).
(bhavanti) (they become immortal)VI.8 amṛtatvam ca gacchati (he goes to immortality).
VI.15 amṛto bhavati (he becomes immortal).
VI.16 amṛtatvam eti (he goes to immortality).
5 kavi (seer) (= medhāvin Śaṇkara)III. 14 kavi (= medhāvin, Śaṇkara)
6 tejaskāya (mass of splendour)V.15 tarn eva bhāntam anubhāti sarvam tasya bhāsā sarvam idam vibhāti
(he shining, all shine; through his light all this is bright).
(Compare: Mundaka II.2.10: same as Kāṭhaka.V.15 above; and Svet.VI.14, same)
(See also the Upanishadic illustration of sparks from a fire.)
6 sarvatra nihitaṃ (all-pervading)I. 14 viddhi tvan etan nihitaṃ guhāyam
(know you this to be established in the hidden place).
V.10 sarvabhūtāntāratman (the self within all beings).
6 mahāntam (great) . . .sarvatra nihitamII. 20, IV.4 mahāntaṃ vibhum (great, all-pervading)
7 nityo vipaścid amṛto dhruvaḥII. 18 na jāyate mriyate vā vipaścin nāyaṃ kutaś cin na babhūva kaścit,
(constant, wise, immortal, firm)ajo nityaḥ śaśvato ’yam purāṇo (the wise self is neither born nor dies, it did not
originate from anything nor did anything originate from it. It is birthless,
eternal undecaying and ancient).
7 anango ’śabdo ’śariro ’sparśaś caIII.15 aśabdam asparśam arūpam avyayam tathā ’rasam
(without limbs,without sound, without touch) (without sound, without touch, without form, without decay, without taste).
7 sa sarvam paramāIII.11 kāṣṭhā sā parā gatiḥ (he is the culmination, he is the highest goal).
(he is all the highest goal, peak)V1.10; paramā gatiḥ (the supreme goal).
8 durdarsaṃ nipuṇaṃI.21 na hi suvijñeyam annr eṣa dharmaḥ
(being subtle, this matter is not easy to understand).
II.12 durdarśaṃ gūḍham anupraviṣṭaṃ guhāhitam
(hard to see, lodged inaccessibly, located in the cave).
(According to Jacob’s Concordance, this word is found only in the Kāṭhaka Upanishad.)
8 modeta viṣṭapeI.12, 18 modate svargaloke (rejoices in heaven)
9 nākapṛṣthe virājatiIII.16 Brahma-loke mahīyate (glorified in the world of Brahman)
(glorious in highest heaven)II.20 anor aṇīyān mahato mahīyān ātmā
āṇiyān bisorṇāyā . . .varṣīyaṃs ca pṛthivyāḥ(subtler than the subtle and greater than the great, the self)

Some of the words, expressions, ideas and so on in the Adhyātma-paṭala are common also to other Upanishads, but as shown above, those identical or similar to the Kāṭhaka Upanishad are overwhelmingly conspicuous, in nearly every sūtra of the Adhyātma-paṭala in fact. It is moreover especially to be noted that the Adhyātma-paṭala, according to its opening and closing sūtras, aims to teach the yoga concerning Ātman (adhyātmika-yoga), and the Kāṭhaka Upanishad (11.12) teaches that one should realize the state of final release by means of the yoga concerning Ātman (Adhyātma-yoga). According to Jacob’s Concordance, this technical term is used only in this passage of the Kāṭhaka Upanishad, of all the Upanishads with which he dealt. From the above facts we must concede a remarkable resemblance between the Adhyātma-paṭala and the Kāṭhaka Upanishad. This may lead us to the following conclusion.

As already discussed, the Kāṭhaka Upanishad was composed during the period 350-300 B.C. by one or more of the new poet-thinkers who had a different standpoint from that of the ancient Vedic theologians, and in the same stream of thought were composed other Upanishads remarkably like the Kāṭhaka Upanishad. At present these are not extant, but a very limited portion of them has been transmitted, as quotations, in the Adhyātma-paṭala of the Āpastamba-dharma-sūtra. Since the composition of these Upanishads may have been around the same time as the Kāṭhaka Upanishad, the date of the Adhyātma-paṭala would be at the earliest 300-250 B.C. The date of the present form of the Āpastamba-dharma-sūtra can be neither earlier than that, nor very much later.

So far it has generally been accepted on the basis of George Biihler’s study that the Āpastamba-dharma-sūtra was composed in the fourth or fifth century B.C. His grounds were as follows: since the style and use of words in the Āpastamba-dharma-sūtra display archaic forms not in accordance with the rules of Pāṇini’s grammar, either the author did not know the Pāṇini grammar (about 350 B.C.) or he knew it but did not think it important.

The archaic forms of the book are not deliberate, for the irregularities in this text are peculiar to itself alone, and cannot be found elsewhere. The Āpastamba-dharma-sūtra ( et seq.) calls the famous Svetaketu, who appears in the Śatapatha-Brāhmaṇa and the Chāndogya Upanishad, a ‘man of latter days’ (avara), so it should have been written in a period not too remote from that of this Old Upanishad. Therefore (concluded Biihler) we may say it belongs to the fifth or fourth century B.C. However, these grounds as they stand are weak and flimsy. The fact that the text does not agree with the grammatical rules of Pāṇini does not permit the inference that it was composed prior to Pāṇini. In view of the very nature of sūtra works, special usages are to be expected in them. But since it can be taken that by the time of Patañjali (about 150 B.C.),

Pāṇini’s grammar was relied upon and in general use among scholars, it may be well to judge that this work came into existence prior to that date. Again there is no necessity to suppose that because Svetaketu is called a ‘man of latter days’, the date of the Āpastamba-dharma-sūtra is close to that of the Chāndogya Upanishad. Pāṇini clearly states that there are two kinds of Brahmanas, those of ancient date and those recent. Kātyayāna (about 250 B.C.) regards as a ‘man of latter days’ the famous Yājñavalkya who appears in both the Brāhmaṇas and the Upanishads, and calls him his ‘contemporary’ (tulyakāla).

For these reasons it is possible to think that there is a gap of several centuries between the Āpastamba-dharma-sūtra and Svetaketu, even though the sūtra calls him a ‘man of latter days’. Therefore it is not at all unreasonable to suppose that the Dharma-sūtra assumed its present form in 300-250 B.C. (or even later than that). But since there seem to be also a great number of old elements in this work, handed down and written before that time but put together finally only in this period, further investigation is required.

The Adhyātma-paṭala is systematically arranged. In the first two sūtras it gives an outline of religious practice; next it quotes passages from Upanishads which expound Atman, and it concludes by listing various virtues as a regimen for practice.

In Vedic texts, various virtues are taught here and there, but we do not find vices and virtues systematically contrasted with each other as they are here. So that even in his listing of the virtues we can observe a systematic attitude on the part of the editor of the law-book.

Again, the Upanishadic passages quoted in the Adhyātma-paṭala are not strung together casually, but are all of them concerned with clarification of the nature of Atman. Even the Kāṭhaka Upanishad, which perhaps was composed in the same period as these passages and is also closely connected with them, comprises not only this kind of symbolic explanation of the nature of Ātman but has also various extraneous arguments and not a few somewhat obscure allegorical expressions. This tendency is notable especially in the Ancient Upanishads. But the Adhyātma-paṭala selects and quotes only passages which explain clearly and directly what Ātman is.

Accordingly we can infer a special attitude or standpoint of the editor from his method of using quotations. He is selective in regard to the Upanishadic texts, and this attitude or standpoint can perhaps be said to be Vedantic. The Āpastamba-dharma-sūtra nowhere refers to any Vedanta school, nor was the editor himself probably conscious of the fact that such a standpoint is Vedantic. But we can recognize in it the first shoots of the Vedanta.

Since this Adhyātma-paṭala explains so clearly the nature of Atman, in later Vedanta it is regarded as important, so much so that it is quoted by both Śaṅkara and Rāmānuja in their commentaries on the Brahma-sūtra, and, as already pointed out, there is even a commentary ascribed to Śaṅkara.

As for the thought of the Adhyātma-paṭala, it is on major points almost the same as that of the Kāṭhaka Upanishad.

Ātman is the essence of all, including not only the human but all varieties of living being. It is the greatest and at the same time the smallest, hidden in the innermost recess in all individual selves. The fact that all living beings, that is to say, individual selves, are called ‘city’ specially reminds us of Rāmānuja’s philosophy, according to which all spiritual beings and the material world constitute the ‘body’ of the absolute. Ātman as the absolute is also said by the Adhyātma-paṭala to be good, eternal, constant, great, pure, immortal, wise, stainless, supreme, root, auspicious, lord, and so on. These attributes are used in other Upanishads as well and are not to be regarded as peculiar to the Adhyātma-paṭala.

As to religious practice, it teaches the yoga of meditating on and worshipping Atman. It calls the state of final release ‘peace’ (kṣema). It clearly allows that final release is attained in the present existence. On the other hand, expressions such as ‘He . . . will rejoice in heaven’ and ‘The wise man . . . shines forth in the highest world of heaven’ point to the notion that complete release is attained in heaven after death.

The Upanishadic passages quoted in the Adhyātma-paṭala are chiefly concerned with the life of the wandering mendicant, but at the end of the chapter it lays down that one ought to practise the yoga of meditation on Ātman throughout all the four stages of life, i.e. student, householder, forest-dweller, and wandering mendicant. Thus in regard to the problem which engaged the attention of later centuries, namely ‘Should one who meditates on Ātman become a wandering mendicant or is he permitted to lead the life of a householder?’ the author of the Āpastamba-dharma-sūtra does not definitely come down on one side or the other. He must have thought that every member of the Aryan society should practise the virtues listed.

Why, one may ask, did the author of the Āpastamba-dharma- sūtra compose an Adhyātma-paṭala of this kind? It occurs in the course of an account of expiations for sins in general, and the author’s intention is to enjoin knowledge of Ātman as the best means by which to purify the mind of those who have committed the various sins. It is therefore clear that in the Brahmin society of that time, the knowledge of Ātman was considered capable of purifying the mind. It is to be noticed here that this Vedantic thought is put forward as the view of the author himself and not merely as a possible view. Even by this time, Vedantic thought had already become a philosophy of the Brahmins.

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